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Mary Gauthier - Rifles and Rosary Beads

Rifles and Rosary BeadsMary Gauthier’s journey from drug dependence and alcoholism to successful recording artist is well documented both in the media and by her work, but until now, the material has focused primarily on her own experiences.  That’s all changed on her latest release Rifles & Rosary Beads, co-written with U.S. veterans and their families. It’s a product of Songwriting with Soldiers, a non-profit programme that brings together song writers with wounded veterans and active duty military.

“ Iraq there were a lot of white knuckles holding rifles tightly, and plenty of other fingers rolling rosary beads in circles, over and over again,” she explains, recounting the conversation with Joe Costello, a young soldier whose words gave rise to the title track.

Whilst the songs were written with US veterans, the issues raised apply equally to forces personnel in the UK.  One thinks of diabetic ex-soldier David Clapson, who served as a Lance Corporal in Belfast during the height of the Troubles. He died two weeks after being sanctioned by the Department For Work and Pensions for missing an appointment at the Job Centre. His death was attributed to diabetic ketoacidosis. He could not afford to feed the electricity meter to power the fridge where he kept his insulin.

Clapson is far from alone in the neglect.  You may or may not have given spare change to ex-squaddies who occupy street corners.

Thanks for serving your country. But now you’re on your own. Good Luck. Yours faithfully, Her Majesty’s Government.

While the subjects raised on Rifles & Rosary Beads may provoke justified outrage, they are portrayed sensitively, and without sentimentality.  There isn’t much by way of self pity either.

“I wore by uniform with honour, my service was not a sacrifice,” she states in opening number, Soldiering on

It isn’t always obvious who the foe is. “Iraq” describes Army mechanic Brandy Davidson’s experience of sexual harrassment and dismissive attitudes from her colleagues. “It was so hard to see ‘til it attacked but my enemy wasn’t Iraq”.

Rifles & Rosary Beads isn’t just about combat.  The aftermath gets attention too.  War after the War, the highlight to this listener, explores life with a wounded and damaged returnee from battle.  "Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war?”

The album has been received well so far, with Gauthier being bracketed with John Prine and even Bob Dylan for her “razor-sharp eye for detail and commitment to unsentimental self-reflection,” according to the Los Angeles Times.  That’s a hefty tag to live up to, but this is Mary Gauthier’s best work to date, and it takes her onto the next plateau. Someone ought to send a copy to the war mongering cheesy wotsit who blagged his way into the Whitehouse.

Rifles and Rosary Beads is released on January 26th 2018 via Proper Records.


Mary Gauthier

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